Walking With Maggie
Mrs Thatcher often went on an after-dinner walk and she asked me to accompany her on several occasions. Years later, to my delight, she remembered these strolls
It is unlikely the world will ever encounter a Margaret Thatcher again. Her courage, confidence in her views, power of persuasion were simply sui generis.
I knew her, not well, yet well enough to form opinions. For several years in the late 1990s she and I planned conferences with speakers whom she admired on both sides of the Atlantic. The first of these encounters was at Weston Park in Staffordshire. Lady Thatcher did not offer a paper, but she was the first to comment after a paper was read. Every comment she made had a clear, unequivocal target. Rarely did she miss the bull’s-eye.
At breakfast each day she arrived promptly, every hair in place. She loathed delays, a concern I took to heart.
On several occasions she asked me to accompany her on an evening walk. She held my arm tightly. When I inquired about her relationship with Ronald Reagan, she referred to him as “the great one”. Whatever differences they may have had, her affection for him was genuine.
Although Lady Thatcher had a reputation for tough-mindedness, she had a tender side that was usually overlooked. In his last years, Sir Denis, her adored husband, was suffering from a form of incremental senility. On one occasion, he demanded to know my sentiments about Bangladesh. I was confused since I hadn’t expressed an opinion on the subject. Sir Denis became unduly animated. Lady Thatcher walked over, took his hand and said, “Why don’t we take a walk together?”
At the end of each evening, with cigar smoke billowing, she was at her best. She had an intelligent opinion on almost everything.
Years later, I saw her at a dinner in London. It was obvious that a series of small strokes had set her back. I was told she might not remember who I was. I approached apprehensively. When I mentioned my name she looked at me and said, “I remember our evening walks, Herbert darling.” I didn’t know what to say except that I was flattered she would recall encounters that meant so much to me.
At a time when courage among Western leaders is in short supply and conviction an unknown commodity, Lady Thatcher continues to stand as an exemplar. She loved the free market, she hated transnational entities unresponsive to the will of the people and she detested backbiting since straightforward exchanges always seemed to yield a desirable end, or so she thought. The memory of those walks lingers and always brings a smile to my face.